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Excellence elevated: FIU earns Florida’s highest public university designation

Excellence elevated: FIU earns Florida’s highest public university designation

June 28, 2024 at 9:40am

With a roar heard from Miami to Tallahassee, FIU cheered the news of its distinction as a Preeminent State Research University.

The Florida Board of Governors has recognized FIU as a top-performing institution of higher education among the 12 public universities in the state.

“It's very exciting,” President Kenneth A. Jessell said, “and everyone had a part in making this happen.”

The new title puts FIU in the same category as the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of South Florida.

Map of the 4 preeminent universities

Notably, the State University System of Florida, which the Board of Governors oversees, has been named the No. 1 system within the United States by U.S. News and World Report. FIU is now the youngest top university within the top system.

“We are in a class with three other equally extraordinary universities, two of them more than 100 years older than FIU,” said FIU Board of Trustees Chair Roger Tovar ’92, MAcc ’94, a two-time alumnus.

“To see our rise not only gratifies me and the others who serve alongside me as volunteer leaders, but it reminds us that everything we do must support the graduating of young people who go on to contribute to our community, the region and the state. This makes Florida ever-better, ever-stronger as our graduates provide a great return on investment to our state.”

The designation comes with an additional $25 million annually from the state, which the university plans to invest in recruiting and retaining top faculty and students. 

Serving the needs of students

Student at commencement

To earn the distinction, the university had to meet the highest of standards, including a dozen benchmarks related to student success and faculty research. FIU previously fell just one requirement short but now has fulfilled the final criterion: It recorded a four-year graduation rate of nearly 65%. Nationally, the four-year graduation rate for students attending public colleges and universities is 33.3%, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

That FIU would accomplish the outstanding requisite was never a question, say leaders. Rather, the university took an evidence-based approach to help undergraduates attain their academic goals and cross the finish line.

“Every student counts,” Jessell said. 

“We knew if we focused on what is important, everything would fall into place. This has been a very intentional endeavor by our faculty and our support staff.”

Jessell cited improvements such as more-responsive advising; the revamping of all-important prerequisite courses to take into account technology advances and new teaching methods; the active involvement of professors; and the awarding of relatively small “completion grants” to students whose financial need to work longer hours in their final semester might otherwise derail timely graduation.

“I’m excited about the future,” added Jessell, who gave credit to every area of the university. He also made clear that the continued commitment of all employees would remain key to maintaining the vaulted status. “This is not the end of the work,” he said, “but the beginning of the journey.”

Finding solutions to the most-pressing problems

FIU conducting research on Biscayne Bay

In the arena of faculty research – a critical piece to earning preeminence – FIU has for years seen its funding and productivity grow exponentially.

The university’s research expenditures for the past five years have together totaled more than $1 billion. Much of that has supported the university’s core research pillars of environment/environmental resilience, health/health disparities and technology.

“Recognition as a Preeminent State Research University is a testament to FIU’s dedication to attacking problems, especially those associated with environmental resilience, in truly transdisciplinary ways,” said Todd Crowl, a professor of biology and the director of the Institute of Environment. “Working across disciplines is the only way we can truly address the issues and . . . work with our communities to effect the changes needed to ensure our long-term health, wealth and happiness. 

“We have and will continue to use the latest science, technology and socio-economic information necessary to address the most pressing issues facing Floridians, the U.S. and the world. We have indeed become one of the premiere universities globally in terms of understanding and addressing environmental resilience and sustainability.”

Students play a vital role in investigative work, added Associate Dean of Research Rita Teutonico. “FIU has made it a hallmark of its mission to address real-world problems affecting its communities and to empower students to be fearless about developing solutions,” she said.

“Achieving the status of preeminence will allow FIU to attract and retain dynamic research faculty who will provide the expertise and leadership needed to mentor the next generation of innovators. The preeminent designation will increase the research opportunities available for both students and faculty and enhance future research success and recognition.”

Offering a world-class education

FIU College of Business students in the lab

FIU’s recognized research prowess combined with its record of graduating students into well-paying jobs with little or no debt has increasingly resonated with prospective students. In the fall of 2023, the number of those enrolling in college for the first time set a university record. And this fall, the incoming class is projected to be even larger. In both years, the academic credentials of entering students – another measure considered for preeminence – hit new highs.

“We’ve become an institution of first choice,” said Provost, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth M. Béjar.

“Students can live in Miami and get a world-class education. You have a top public research university right here.”

Student body president Francesca Casanova called inclusion among Florida’s leading universities a reputational gamechanger. “We’re competing now in a different bracket,” she said of the university’s ability to attract the most talented students.

“It used to be that going to FIU was no big deal, Now it’s, ‘I’m going to FIU. It is a big deal.”